Jacquelyn Johnson, mother of Kendrick Johnson, stands with her sister at the podium of Orene Hall at Albany State University. The circumstances of her son’s death in Valdosta last year was the focus of a Criminal Justice Week program at Albany State on Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — A case originating out of Valdosta that has gained nationwide attention made its way into Albany when the focus of an event at Albany State University on Wednesday was centered on the circumstances surrounding the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, who was found in a wrestling mat at Lowndes High School.
The teen’s mother, aunt and the family’s attorney, Chevene King, were among those who participated in a program at the campus’ Orene Hall as part of its observance of Criminal Justice Week.
“Justice is a word of little meaning unless action is put behind it,” said Shawnese Leonard, administrative assistant to the chair at the ASU Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. “The only thing that concerns justice is whether it is received.
“Justice is the only thing that brings peace where it seems like that peace doesn’t exist.”
Before the family and King took the stage, there were perspectives offered from a few of the university’s criminal justice students on the case as well as a perspective given by Victoria Johnson, assistant district attorney for the Dougherty Judicial Circuit.
Johnson’s role puts her in the position of often representing family members of victims, while defense attorneys represent defendants. In her remarks, she recalled an instance in which she was asked why she wanted to be a prosecutor rather than a defense attorney.
“(I felt) there needs to be strong counsel on both sides,” she said. “There is a wide range of discretion that we hold, and there needs to be a diverse group on both sides.”
“What we have to remember is that all deaths are important … it is part of our role to go after defendants that commit these crimes. You as citizens have to stand for cases that you care about.”
King, calling the case one with “many moving parts,” presented questions he and the family have regarding the teenager’s death — contending he was murdered rather than suffering a death by positional asphyxia inside a rolled up wrestling mat as was concluded in the initial investigation.
At the same time, he raised questions during the program regarding how the investigation was handled, the condition of the body and how it was positioned upon discovery, how the camera facing the gym mat may have been tampered with, among other things. Rather than having died by accidental means, another theory is that the teen was possibly lured into the Lowndes High School gym where he got into a confrontation that got out of hand, the attorney said.
“With 3,000 people walking around (the school’s campus), (how is it that) he went missing in the middle of the day and nobody knew anything about it?,” King said on Wednesday.
King commended the Johnson family’s resolve in getting answers and standing up for themselves, such as when they were reportedly denied the chance to see their son’s body.
“For five to six days a week, they stood on the street corner and demanded justice,” the attorney said. “It even reached the point where they (resorted to) civil disobedience.”
Jacquelyn Johnson, mother of the victim, took the podium with her sister standing behind her. As a parent, she encouraged the audience members to stand up for their children, regardless of the obstacles involved.
“We hardly have any support in Valdosta,” she said. “I am my own supporter.”